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How Should We Then Live?

February 2014
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How should we then liveThe late Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), who was one of America’s most influential evangelical thinkers during the 20th Century, wrote a wonderful book that was first published in 1976 titled, How Should We Then Live? (subtitled: “The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture”). I used to own it but lost it along with a zillion other books when I left Houston to return to Florida in 2009 after losing my job in Houston. Here’s a quote from a review of the book on CEP (quote source here) that was republished in 2005 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship International:

In the publisher’s foreword, Lane Dennis . . . writes, “Schaeffer’s thesis was that if we are to understand (as stated in the title) ‘how we should then live’ today, then we must understand the cultural and intellectual forces that brought us to this day.” Schaeffer thus begins his penetrating analysis with the fall of Rome, followed by the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, while focusing in the twentieth century primarily on the influence of art, music, literature, and film. As kingdom disciples, we must not only understand the Word, we must understand the world, if we are to communicate the truth to our generation.

Because this book was written thirty years ago it did not reflect some of the latest understanding of postmodern philosophy. Schaeffer demonstrated himself, however, as a bridge person who understood the shortcomings of modernism and how it was leading western culture toward the path of postmodernism. He had an ability, as a cultural apologist, to demonstrate how a post-Christian mind impacted the arts, music, drama, the media, as well as theology. This made his ministry uniquely applicable to his 20th century audience. It also paved the way for us as we moved into the 21st century.

In chapter after chapter you will find underscored the importance of understanding Christianity as a total life system or as Nancy Pearcey has written, “total truth.” In his closing remarks, Schaeffer wrote, “This book is written in the hope that this generation may turn from the greatest of wickedness, the placing of any created thing in the place of the Creator, and that this generation may get its feet out of the paths of death and may live.” Those same words can be said of the rising generations today, as well.

While Schaeffer demonstrated time and again that Christian thinking was on the wane, at the same time he challenged his generation to develop a Christian mind that thinks from a Christian perspective about all things. He stood on biblical truth as he wrote and taught these truths. His key text was Ezekiel 33:1-11, 19 and especially verse 10. Like Ezekiel of old, Schaeffer, in his prophet-like style, challenged the readers to be watchmen, knowing how they should live.

The title of the book comes from Ezekiel 33:10:

“Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’

And the answer is found in Ezekiel 33:19:

And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so.

Love everyone including enemiesIt seems in our present day society we hardly even recognize wickedness in ourselves or others (one of the definitions is mischievious or playfully malicious), tending to think it only exists in a list of “top ten sins” (like murder, adultery and/or other sexual sins, stealing, taking God’s name in vain, etc.–The Ten Commandents in Exodus 20 come to mind) that we most often focus on while a hundred “lesser” sins go on unnoticed (like gossip, for example) in our own lives. Oh yes, and many of those sins listed in The Ten Commandents go unnoticed today, too, even among Christians. Since it was God who spoke them, I think we should take them a little more seriously then we do. Those were His commandments to the Israelites whom he freed from their bondage and slavery in Egypt, so why would we today want to continue to live in the bondage and slavery brought on by sin when God has shown us a much better way to live? Too often, it is because we want to keep on sinning. We like our sin. And even after all these centuries have passed since the Israelites were freed from their bondage through a miraculous intervention by God, people still don’t want to change. Only Jesus Christ can change us but we have to be willing to live life on His terms (it’s called discipleship) and not on our own. He didn’t die on the cross just so we could keep on making excuses to keep on sinning.

In Ephesians 4:17 – 5:20, the Apostle Paul gave the Ephesian believers instructions on how to live as Christians in their own society, and it is just as relevant to us today (for those of us who call ourselves Christian) as it was for those Christians back in Paul’s day. Let’s read what he had to say:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How often today do we take even this one verse from the passage above seriously?–“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Eph. 5:3). Of course, being human, we are not perfect, but far too often we use that as an excuse to keep on sinning any way we want, and our hearts and attitudes are hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. It is our heart attitude that guides our lives, and a deceitful heart will find any excuse to keep on doing what it wants to do. That is why Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) states:

Above all else, guard your heart
(“with all diligence”–
for everything you do flows from it.

And it is also why we are admonished in Ephesians 5:15-16 (from the passage quoted above) to “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” If we are living and acting just like the rest of the culture we are not Christian whether we show up for church on Sunday or not. And if we don’t look or act any differently from the rest of the culture but still call ourselves Christian, it’s time to . . .

“Wake up, sleeper . . .

“Rise from the dead . . .

“And Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14) . . . .

YouTube Video: “I’m Not Who I Was” (2006) by Brandon Heath:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here


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